For many people what’s attractive about an academic career is the opportunity to be intellectually engaged: with students, with books, with colleagues, etc. Popular cultural representations of academia twist this into an image of the professor with his mind on higher things and detached from reality. Either way what gets called “the life of the mind” is central to both positive and negative representations of academic careers.
As you know, an academic job also involves a lot of mundane, practical activities including attending meetings, filling in forms, and so on. Sometimes it feels like those mundane activities crowd out the intellectual engagement, especially in the context of external “accountability”, increased student numbers, reduced budgets, and so on.
Where is “the life of the mind” in your academic job?
Does this suggest reading books and thinking big thoughts?
Spending time in an archive?
Interesting intellectual discussions with peers?
Interesting intellectual discussions with students?
Seeing students “click” with the subject you love?
Are you frustrated at how much of your job seems distant from this?
Is there a mismatch between the demands put on you for research productivity and the scholarship that you think is important?
Is it hard to get that intellectual stimulation from teaching because of increasing class sizes?
Are you frustrated by the mismatch between your desire to do research and the structural forces which require you to manage others doing research under your supervision?
Have you ever talked about scholarship and ideas with your colleagues? Or is most of your interaction about administrivia and student issues?
Does you career fulfill your expectations of the life of the mind?
Does your experience suggest this is an achievable goal?
Have you done anything to prioritize the life of the mind and diminish the frustrations other experience?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this?
Positive stories of the benefits of an academic career.
Negative ones about the frustrations.
Let the aspiring academics see more of what the job is really like. And help me help people like you make their job more like the one they want.
Edited March 30, 2017.